When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to be able to shave my legs because I was constantly being bullied about my body hair. In grade school, boys would taunt me by saying that I was a man, or that I had more hair than them. Even in high school, I was really nervous to wear gym shorts.
I started shaving around the age of 16, but it felt like I was doing something that went against my mother’s wishes. She would talk about my body hair in a very loving way, telling me that it would eventually go away. Her belief was that if I just kept my legs covered and waited, one day I wouldn’t have to shave at all. But I was in a social environment where that just wasn’t going to fly.
Then, as I got older, I experienced a huge shift in the way I looked at my body hair. I was lucky to have several professors with different perspectives, and I remember one teacher saying that the hairs of our body are like antennas. She said they were receptors of our experiences, and that they protected our bodies—and that really stuck with me.
Around the same time, my body started to become a public thing. I had begun modelling in my teens, and then I started leading group gatherings on self-actualization and journalling, and I was always in front of other women. I started thinking about my body as a thing that has purpose and that communicates. When I stopped shaving, I asked myself, “Who am I shaving for?” It wasn’t for my partner; he once walked in on me waxing my knuckles and asked me what I was doing. When I explained that I had hair growing there and people would look at it, he said, “So? That’s how your body is! It wants to grow hair there!” And I realized in that moment: If I’m not shaving in order for people to look at me a certain way or to be sexualized or to feel attractive, who am I doing it for? It felt like I was reclaiming ownership of my own body.
Now I lead kundalini yoga and meditation classes with women of all ages, body types and experiences—and I do so with unshaven armpits and legs. I believe that the more courageous I am, the more others are able to see courage in themselves. While I understand that different body types may have thicker, coarser hair than mine—making the decision not to shave even more challenging—it feels good to know that women can see an alternate possibility in me.
I’ve gotten so many messages from students in my classes who feel empowered by seeing me be free and joyful with my body hair, and it’s really humbling. Being a woman of colour with body hair is also huge because there’s a lot of shame in various cultures around dirtiness; so it’s one thing to have the hair, but it’s another thing to think about how you present with it. I see my family in my body and I see nature in my body, and I want to respect it as such.
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Maureen Halushak, editor-in-chief, Chatelaine